The NRA has set an ambitious goal to retrofit all the earthquake-damaged heritage structures, and reconstruction of all temples, monasteries, monuments and archeological structures will be completed in three years’ time.
The 7.6 magnitude earthquake of 25 April 2015 and its powerful aftershocks destroyed and damaged altogether 753 heritage sites, ancient monuments and archeologically important structures in and outside the Kathmandu Valley. After the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) was formed three years ago, the legally mandated agency responsible for leading the post-earthquake recovery also gave priority to reconstruction and restoration of Nepal’s priceless heritage sites.
Documentation and restoration of heritage structures
Reconstruction of the earthquake-damaged heritage structures is a complex endeavor. It requires a lot of detailed study, meticulous documentation and planning before starting actual reconstruction work. So, in the first phase of heritage restoration, we made an inventory of earthquake-damaged heritage structures by carefully collecting, examining and documenting details about all the fallen monuments, artefacts and structures. We faced an acute shortage of skilled manpower, but that did not stop us from accomplishing our mission. In the second phase, we managed more skilled manpower and carried out even more detailed researches. We trained artisans. We prepared conservation notes, drawing designs and legal instruments. Only then did the actual reconstruction begin.
Rebuilding earthquake-damaged heritage structures is not as simple as rebuilding other structures. We need to ascertain the original style, architecture and appearance of every monument through layers of meticulous examination and verification in tune with Ancient Monument Preservation Act 2013 BS and its guidelines-2046 BS as well as international norms and standards. While preserving original and unique style and architecture of monuments, it is also important to make them earthquake-resistant. All these complications meant that restoration of earthquake-damaged heritage structures needed more time to begin, and is still perceived by people to be slower than expected.
In the first three years of the NRA, as many as 201 monuments and heritage structures (53 inside World Heritage Sites and 148 situated elsewhere) have already been rebuilt and preserved by the Department of Archaeology, local governments, NGOs, donor agencies and Nepal's development partners.
Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT) is also involved in preservation and restoration of some earthquake-damaged heritage structures, and Nepal's development partners like Japan, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, China and India have also provided their support to rebuilding temples, monasteries, ancient palaces, monuments and archeological structures. The earthquake-destroyed Kasthmandap is being rebuilt by Kasthmandap Reconstruction Committee involving local people, and we are also sorting out the dispute over which style and architecture to follow in reconstruction of Balgopaleshwor temple of Rani Pokhari.
Last year, a survey was conducted to assess the extent of damage to monasteries and Buddhist Vihars. The survey showed that 895 of the 1,320 earthquake-damaged monasteries and Buddhist Vihars need to be rebuilt, while 502 monasteries just need repair works. However, reconstruction of monasteries and Buddhist Vihars could not gather pace due to the delay in finalizing necessary procedures. This year, all the required procedures will be finalized and reconstruction of monasteries and Buddhist Vihars will be expedited.
Constraints and challenges
A shortage of skilled artisans, lack of traditional construction materials, complicated process of receiving and mobilizing foreign assistance, lack of legal instruments for monastery construction and lack of coordination between stakeholders are major constraints and challenges in accelerating the pace of restoring the earthquake-damaged monasteries and Vihars.
The future roadmap
The NRA has given priority to restoration and preservation of ancient temples, monasteries and monuments located inside world heritage sites. The Prime Minister has already laid the foundation stone of the historical monument of Dharahara, which will be built in the next two years. The NRA has set an ambitious goal to retrofit all the earthquake-damaged heritage structures, and reconstruction of all temples, monasteries, monuments and archeological structures will be completed in three years’ time. The process is underway to develop comprehensive master plans to preserve and rebuild all 52 ancient settlements in and outside Kathmandu Valley.
Bhishma Banskota is an Archeology Officer at the National Reconstruction Authority